Invasion: Hirschbiegel's Fourth Version

A massive explosion lights up the skies from Dallas to Washington, DC, shattering the space shuttle Patriot into pieces. The authorities are quick to seize control of the situation, but stories emerge about a strange substance found clinging to the wreckage. As the epidemic spreads, the people in charge of inoculation against it are spreading something far worse–a spore of unknown origin that attacks human DNA while the host sleeps, remaking it in the image of a life form that looks like us and talks like us, but with all human emotion drained away.

Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig star in the science fiction action thriller “The Invasion,” an odyssey into a world in which the only way to stay human is to stay awake. The film also stars Jeremy Northam and Jeffrey Wright. The Invasion is directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, who helmed the award-winning drama Downfall, from a screenplay by David Kajganich, based on the novel “The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney.”

Joel Silver, producer of such blockbuster franchises as The Matrix trilogy, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon series, produced the film, with Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Susan Downey, Steve Richards, Ronald G. Smith and Bruce Berman executive producing. The creative team was led by director of photography Rainer Klausmann, production designer Jack Fisk, editors Joel Negron and Hans Funck and costume designer Jacqueline West. John Ottman composed the score.

This latest adaptation, says producer Silver, puts a marked twist in the very notion of alien invasion, touching on contemporary cultural issues stemming from fear of pandemic to social and political unrest. “The film poses the idea that an invasion can occur without ships, without the physical presence of aliens. We're at a time now in which the notion of a pandemic is a real and present threat. What if our destruction could come not at the hands of invaders but through the introduction of microbes What's scariest is being confronted by something that could just creep in and take over without anyone knowing until it's almost too late.”

In a contemporary world, what happens when the people charged with protecting the public are the first to be changed “If you sense something is wrong but the government, the news, the scientist in charge of stopping a disease–everyone is telling you everything's okay, people tend to think it's just paranoia,” says Silver. “That's how power can slip away, power to stop it or warn people on a mass scale. The main characters in this story have to learn to trust what they're seeing with their own eyes before it goes past the point of doing anything about it.”

Screenwriter David Kajganich notes, “In the Finney novel the alien presence simply wants to survive. But survival takes different forms. You just have to look around our world today to see that power inspires nothing more than the desire to retain it and to eliminate anything that threatens it. It's no accident that the vehicle
for this invasion lands at the nation's seat of power in Washington, DC.”

“The Invasion” is a thriller that unfolds in a world that is very recognizable world of today,” says producer Silver. “In an era of enormous political, social and environmental paranoia, it really felt for us that now was the right time to make this film. David Kasganich wrote an original screenplay that takes a fresh approach to the ideas in the novel. This movie is thrilling and exciting but with a deeper layer of undertones.”

To bring to life a totally contemporary and realistic take on the story, Silver
brought in acclaimed German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, fresh off the multiple award-winning film “Downfall,” his intimate and unsettling portrait of Hitler's final days. “'Downfall' just blew me away,” says Silver. “He brought such intensity, claustrophobia and intimacy to that particular moment in history without losing the incredible realism of his vision. Oliver has a creative need to have things be as authentic as they possibly can, and that's what we wanted to capture with this science fiction thriller–the sense that it is happening before your eyes in a world you recognize.”

Hirschbiegel offers that, even when dealing with a science fiction story, realism is key for him. “When in doubt, I try to imagine how it would be in real life. I try to avoid any phony, over-the-top filmmaking effects.”

Point of View

For Hirschbiegel, the character of the psychiatrist Carol (Nicole Kidman) is the lens through which the story is told. “Everything is centered around her, seen from her perspective. Nicole brought so much of herself to this role in terms of her strength and her absolutely primal need to protect her child,” the director states. “Her ability to immerse herself in the world of the story was fascinating to observe and capture on film. Her reactions felt very natural, which really heightened the urgency of her character's situation.”

As Carol looks into her patient's fears, she discovers that similar fears are popping up all over the country. Could it be a mass delusion, or a very real phenomenon tied somehow to the space shuttle crash Carol shares her suspicions with her closest friend, Ben Driscoll, a doctor at a busy DC hospital.

“I felt so fortunate to have Daniel in the role of Ben,” Hirschbiegel remarks. “He naturally conveyed all the facets of his character: all the toughness, the intelligence and the tenderness that makes you see why Carol relies on Ben so much. Daniel also has a wicked sense of humor. I had a great time working with
him.”

The CDC mounts an emergency national inoculation plan to combat what it names to be a powerful flu, but the truth of the serum is the reverse of inoculation. “In one scene, Tucker is lecturing government officials about this virus and the need to fight it but in reality he's using the meeting to infect everyone in the room,” explains Joel Silver. “They organize this magnificent campaign, and soon the number of Snatchers grows exponentially.”

“When you've been snatched, you look a little better, a little healthier, stronger,” Hirschbiegel describes. “It messes around with your genetic code. Snatchers like order–not like robots, but they don't respond to anything emotionally. They go into a serene, weird state.”

Seemingly overnight, the colorful, chaotic everyday world is transformed into a muted world of organization, starting first with the keepers of order. “The Snatchers are not dumb,” adds David Kajganich. “The first people they infect are the people who will be most useful to them in their campaign. So, they infect people who are in high-ranking positions in government, law enforcement and commerce to pave the way for a smooth, quick invasion of the rest of us. Efficiency is a big word for describing how Snatchers behave–in the most efficient way possible.”

While Kajganich adapted the story for the screen, he did not imagine how brutal it would be when brought to life by the cast. “One of the main characters of the film is infected in broad daylight in a suburban home,” he recalls, “and to me, it was a much more disturbing scene than graphic screen violence. Watching the actors play that out, I had to look away. I couldn't believe it was as upsetting as it was. You feel the human weight of what's going on because the cast is comprised of such brilliant actors; it's incredibly raw and real. You're watching it happen before your eyes and you start to believe it, even when standing on a movie set.”

Silver says he could not have asked for a more perfect cast to bring the personal fears of the characters to palpable life. “Everyone did a fantastic job with this material. All the players worked together under Oliver's direction to create a creepy, uncomfortable feeling of this invasion, starting with Nicole, who is in nearly every shot of the film and really anchors the story with her emotional presence.”

Two of the primary technical advisors on the film included Ana Krieger, FCCP, M.D., the Director of New York University's Sleep Disorders Center; and Linda Chuang, M.D., Clinical Instructor, Department of Psychiatry, Division of consultation-Liaison, Bellevue Hospital, New York University.

To help build the world of “The Invasion,” production designer Jack Fisk collaborated with Hirschbiegel and found the German director's focus on realism refreshing. “Although he was working on a major studio film, he operated pretty much as a European or documentary filmmaker,” Fisk remarks. “The idea was to go to locations, alter them and shoot quickly with minimal lighting. Oliver is used to thinking on his feet and leaving avenues open for exploration, so we quickly adapted to providing him with anything he needed on the spur of the moment.” Fisk adds that, “Oliver's dedication to his perceived reality came to define the locations for the film.” “Downfall” was so deftly and economically shot,” comments Jeremy Northam. “There is no waste. Oliver knows when to leave the camera and when to move it. It was so interesting working with him.”

One of the predominant visual motifs of the film was the gradual leak of color from the world as the Snatchers gained dominance. “The Snatchers are not as attracted to color as the humans and so color–or the lack thereof–was one way to tell them apart,” Fisk describes. Hirschbiegel and Fisk collaborated with Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West (“Quills”) to bring that motif into the wardrobe design.

“Oliver is greatly responsible for the Snatcher look,” notes West. “From the first meeting, he said, “How do you see these Snatchers” I imagined that as they are drained of everything human, they would also be drained of color, personality, and individualism. Their clothes are monochromatic and utilitarian. Their color palette is gray, brown and navy blue but all solid. It's pretty much a new order.” By contrast, Kidman's character retains her individuality throughout the film. “Oliver loves classicism and Nicole brings a very classic, timeless look to the character,” West says. “She looks so simple and sleek.”

Rather than fabricate a set on a soundstage, the helmer sought to shoot the film primarily in practical locations, preferably the story's true locations. Principal photography on “The Invasion” began in Baltimore's Downtown/Inner Harbor area, which portrayed itself as well as doubling on occasion for Washington, DC. The company then moved to the nation's capital, the film's primary setting.

The Look

Production utilized locations and landmarks recognized worldwide, including the National Mall, George Washington University Hospital in the city's Foggy Bottom district, the Cleveland Park Metro Station, Georgetown, and the historic Union Station.

Shooting in Washington gave Daniel Craig a particular thrill: “Driving down Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol in front of me, with six cop cars behind me and with my lights on was fun,” he remembers. “I was suddenly going, “This is fantastic!” The footage gathered on the National Mall was augmented by additional footage shot on a private wheat farm that became the space shuttle Patriot crash site where the CDC's Tucker Kaufman arrives to investigate. The site was adjacent to the Fort Howard VA Medical Center. “On this bigger crash site, we built one wing of the shuttle and plowed it into a trench so that only parts of it stuck out,” says Fisk.

For the last six days of DC filming, the cast and crew set up in the residence of the Ambassador of Chile located near Sheridan Circle along the district's famed Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue. The ambassador's historically significant three-story mansion-designed in 1909 by prestigious architect Nathan Wyeth, who also designed the West Wing of the White House, including the Oval Office, portrays the Czech Embassy in the film.

Though many of the DC locations were tricky, Fisk and location manager Todd Christensen found that the project itself and the people associated with it helped enormously with securing them. “I think that we got an entre to a lot of great locations because of Oliver's and Nicole's involvement,” Fisk notes. “It turned this film into something that people wanted to be a part of. The U.S. Park Service in Washington was incredibly helpful to us. They do so many events in Washington and were very receptive to our ideas. There were restrictions, of course–like how long we were on the Mall–but it was all very workable, and overall it was extremely smooth.”

Following Washington, DC, the cast and crew moved back to Baltimore for the final four weeks of filming, where locations included the Towers of Harbor Court, Baltimore Hospital, the Convention Center, the Legg Mason Building, and the Molecular Biology Department of Johns Hopkins University's Mudd Hall, the central building of the University's three-part biology complex. As the location contained active labs with living organisms, the crew was instructed to not enter any room or touch any lab item, which was fitting for the story's themes.

One of the film's pivotal scenes was filmed on the roof helipad of the Baltimore Police Department Headquarters, in a sequence that involved a Black Hawk helicopter and picture copters, piloted by veteran movie helicopter pilots Ben Skorstad (“Air Force One”) and David Paris (“Black Hawk Down”). “We were very fortunate because the United States Army allowed us to utilize one of their actual Special Forces helicopters along with the services of one of their pilots,”

Silver remembers. “There were obviously a lot of logistics involved, but we were so grateful for the assistance of the military in making it possible to have a Black Hawk land on police headquarters in the middle of Baltimore, which, I must say, was pretty spectacular.”

While the “The Invasion” has its roots in classic science fiction, Silver notes that the film plays on more contemporary collective fears. “Who knows what we'll ultimately be vulnerable to as a society What if it's not incredible destruction or explosions It might be something as simple as a microbe, and I think that's a scarier notion today. You don't know where it's going to come from or how it's going to happen.”

“The whole mythology of the book The Body Snatchers and now the movie 'The Invasion' is that they come from outer space, they get you while you're sleeping, and one day you wake up and your world has been completely changed,” comments Kajganich. “Suddenly you're in a minority of people trying to fight to put things back as they were. But that basic premise becomes much scarier and much more relevant when you consider a population that doesn't engage politically, that doesn't pay attention to what's going on in the world. That world could disappear in the blink of an eye.”

Silver concludes, “It's no accident that the invasion begins at the highest levels. Then it's just a matter of playing on people's fears to spread the contagion throughout the population. Fear has always been a great tool to keep people from seeing what is really going on. But,” he adds, “once people are snatched and are robbed of all human emotions, something else starts to happen: Ironically, by taking away our strongest emotions, this invasion also eradicates the things that most divide us–anger, jealousy, hate, prejudice–and the result is an unearthly peace. Tucker and others try to convince Carol what they offer is, in fact, a better
World–and one could argue that they are not entirely wrong.”

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